Business Findings of the Kumbh Mela Team (comments for TOI)
(I drafted these comments in response to a query from Times of India directed through Meena).
1) Purpose of the “Mapping the Kumbh Mela”- South Asia Institute
2) Could you elaborate on the focus of the project? – Faculty member at the South Asia Institute
3) Experience at the Kumbh Mela – Any student visitor
4) Thoughts on the temporary settlement built for the purpose of the Kumbh Mela
5) Findings of the business at Kumbh Mela team – A researcher of the business team (JOHN)
6) Additionally, would it be possible for any one of the student researchers to write a piece of about 350 words on his/ her experiences and findings at the Kumbh Mela? This would be separate story to go in our student speak column.
John’s answers (we will see what gets published):
A: The Harvard Business School component focused on two aspects of the successful organization and operation of the Kumbh Mela: one, lessons from administration and leadership, and two: lessons from infrastructure design, delivery, and finance. In both instances, we compared the unique situation of this temporary “pop-up city” (which springs to life on land that is underwater much of the time) to the situation in other emerging market countries where there also is a massive influx of people.
The authority enjoyed by the administrators is on the far edge of our emerging country scale. This probably occurs because of three main factors. First, all parties have very high agreement and alignment on the basic purpose of the city: to run a successful Mela. Second, there are no legacy structures or land holdings to work around. And third, there are no voting blocks or other interests acting counter to thoughtful long term overall planning that considers the many.
With respect to infrastructure design and delivery, we observed that the vast proportion of effort is directed toward just two aspects of infrastructure: roads and electricity. Bridges are a third component. Other aspects of hard infrastructure (mass transit, air and shipping, piped water and waste water, gas and oil) and soft infrastructure (food, education, entertainment, shopping, and some aspects of security) are left to the non-government actors to organize and deliver (in this situation, the akharas). On the scale of focus, this also is at the extreme focused end with few infrastructure distractions.
The preliminary findings are that this ability to focus on just a few things and the ability to make decisions and have them carried out are what makes the Kumbh Mela work. The next aspect is to consider whether these lessons are extensible in practice to other fast-growing Indian cities or informal settlements.